They were typical Army, the three soldiers killed this week in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood.
Three sergeants in their later 30s with the kind of experience – including combat tours – that made them highly valuable, both to younger GIs who looked to them for direction and to commanders who know that it’s such noncommissioned officers who are responsible for the day-to-day tasks and unit leadership essential to mission accomplishment.
Sgt. Timothy Wayne Owens, 37, from Effingham, Ill., who joined the Army in 2004, went to Iraq the next year, and counted three Commendation Medals, four Army Achievement Medals, and a Combat Action Badge among his awards.
Staff Sgt. Carlos Alberto Lazaney-Rodriguez, 38, from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. He’d been in the Army nearly 20 years, served two tours in Iraq, and had been awarded four Commendation Medals and three Army Achievement Medals.
Two days after another Army soldier – Spc. Ivan Lopez – shot and killed the three sergeants Wednesday, wounding 16 others before taking his own life when he was confronted by a military police officer, Ft Hood commander Lt. Gen. Mark Milley identified the three dead soldiers.
Since then, bits and pieces of their life stories have emerged.
“He was one of those kids who wanted to wear camouflage and wanted to wear bomber jackets and sunglasses,” Sgt. Owens’ cousin Glen Welton, himself a National Guard veteran of Iraq, told the Chicago Sun-Times. Owens hadn’t finished high school when he enlisted, later earning his GED.
“He had grown into a man,” another cousin, Betty Goodwin, said. “The military had made him a complete man.”
Darlene Humphrey, Owens’ mother-in-law, called her daughter Billy’s husband “very kind.”
“Anything you wanted done, he would do for you,” she said. “He was thoughtful. He believed everyone should work their problems out instead of bickering. Just a wonderful man.”
Owens had recently remarried and was the father of two teenagers.
“I’m very proud of him because he was fighting for our country,” his mother, Mary Louise Muntean, told NBC in Chicago.
“I can’t believe this has happened. I just can’t,” she said. “I just talked to him Sunday night.”
Staff Sgt. Lazaney-Rodriguez, who’d enlisted in the Army when he was just 18, was just seven months away from retirement.
Devin Dawes, a former sergeant in the Army and a military police officer who had served with him in Honolulu and in Iraq, told the Los Angeles Times that Lazaney-Rodriguez was a "Star Wars" buff who had a bobble-head collection of the movies' characters.
Lazaney-Rodriguez was tough, but also very caring, Mr. Dawes said.
"When you got to know him he was very down to earth," Dawes told the newspaper. "He would always check my uniform before the start of the day. He always led by example."
Carlos Mendez Martinez, mayor of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, Lazaney-Rodriguez’s hometown, knows the family. “They are an excellent family, really good people,” he told NBC News.
As the stricken families grieve, and as the Army tries to figure out how Spc. Lopez’s violent reaction to an apparent argument over permission for time off might have been predicted or prevented, Sfc. Ferguson’s final act is being described as heroic.
Ferguson, who returned from Afghanistan a year ago, died trying to hold a door shut in order to keep the gunman from getting into a room packed with military personnel.
“He held that door shut because it wouldn’t lock,” his fiancée, Kristen Haley, who is also a soldier, told WTSP, the CBS affiliate in Tampa, Fla. “If he was not being the one against that door holding it, that shooter would have been able to get through and shoot everyone else.”
Ferguson played football, baseball and basketball and ran track in high school, WTSP reported. At the high school in Mulberry, Fla., where Ferguson graduated in 1993, students observed a moment of silence on Friday before the pledge of allegiance.
Owens' daughter, Loredana Owens, took to Facebook shortly after she learned of her father's death, the Los Angeles Times reported
"I still feel like it's all a dream... Can't feel anything," she wrote. "I love dad and I hate that you were taken away from me."
A joint memorial service for the three soldiers is scheduled for Wednesday at Fort Hood.